The Dreaded Circle of Fifths and Fourths
No, it’s not my mobile number. 🙂
Just like a clock has 12 numbers on it, the Circle of Fifths has 12 keys. These represent the tonic for each key. The way we use it is to put the current key at the 12:00 position. Hopefully, everybody knows where 12:00 is. 🙂 Now, watch this. The 4 chord is ALWAYS at 11:00 and the 5 chord is ALWAYS at 1:00.
From 11:00-5:00, it goes:MMMmmmd°
Since C major has no sharps or flats, we put that at 12:00. Think of the circle like a clock.
Okay, count up 4 letters from C. What do you get? Hopefully, you said G. That is the next key in the circle. As you move around to the right, you need to add a sharp. So, G has F#. What is the FIFTH note in G? Did you say E? Sorry, it’s D. D is the FIFTH note in G major.
The sharps will add up: F#, C#, G#, D#, A#. You add the next sharp to the others.
D has F#, C#
A has F#, C#, G#
E has F#,C#,G#, D#
B has F#, C#, G#, D#,A#
Can you see how they build?
Also notice that the added sharp is the note ti in that scale. F# is ti in G major. C# is ti in D major. G# is ti in A major etc..
So, remember that the chords at 2:00, 3:00 and 4:00 are all minor chords.
Majors are at 11:00, 12:00, 1:00.
The diminished chord is at 5:00.
We can find all 7 Diatonic chords by using the Circle of Fifths.
I will show you a sequence to help you remember where each chord is on the Circle. Here it is: 4152637 . The sequence starts at 11:00 and finishes at 5:00. That means the 7 chord (Ti) is at 5:00. Where is the 6 chord (La)? 4 1 5 2 6 3 7
See it now?
You can use math to help you remember the chord locations. The 2 chord (Re) is at 2:00. The 6 chord (La) is at 3:00. 6÷2=3. The 3 chord (Mi) is at 4:00. 3+1=4. A 36251 progression goes from 4:00 to 12:00.
NOW you know where the major and minor chords are on the circle.:)
Here’s the order of keys in fifths going around the circle:
When you get to F#, switch to Gb to avoid confusing notes like B#(C) and E#(F).
The major keys are on the outside circle while the relative minor keys are on the inside circle.
Here are some little known facts about the Circle.
1. It groups the six common Diatonic chords together.
Since C is already at 12:00, we’ll look at the key of C. The relative minor of C major is Am. As you can see, Am is right below C on the inside circle. The relative minor of F is Dm, which is right below F on the inner circle and G has Em for its relative minor and can be found right below G on the inner circle.
The six common chords in C major are:C Dm Em F G Am. This grouping works the same for all 12 major keys. Put your key at 12:00 and the other chords will fall into place.
2. All seven Diatonic chords can be found on the circle.
If you draw a line from 11:00 to 5:00, the seven Diatonic chords will be to the right of that line. The order of the chords from 11:00 to 5:00 are:4152637.
3. The third of a chord can be found using the Circle.
The major third is found four notes to the RIGHT. The major third of C is E. E is four notes to the right of C.
The minor third is found three notes to the LEFT. The minor third of C is Eb and is three notes away from C.
4. The Circle can help you find out of key chords.
One way to spice up a progression is to add out of key chords. However, you can’t just stick any chords in there. So, how can you find them?
Well, you can look to the parallel minor. The chords in Cm can be used in a C major progression. Cm is the relative minor of Eb major. If you look at the chords in Cm, you will notice Bb, Ab, Eb, Fm, Gm. Those chords can be used in a C major progression too. The song ‘Amazed’ by Lonestar uses chords from the parallel minor.
5. The Circle can show you which notes get sharpened in a key.
We know that C major has no sharps or flats. It only uses the white keys on the piano. The ONLY difference between C major and G major is ONE NOTE. G major has an F# instead of an F.
How can we tell which notes get sharpened though? Great question..;) We can look at the Circle.
F is two notes to the left of G on the Circle. THAT is the note that gets sharpened. You skip over C and sharpen F. As you move to the right on the circle, you still skip the note immediately to the left and then sharpen the notes next to it. D major has two sharps:C# and F#. You skip over G and add C# to F#. A has F#, C# and G#, you skip over D. Can you see the pattern?
The flats work the same way but you don’t skip any notes. C has no flats. The notes that are flattened will be to the left of the key note.
F has Bb for its flat note. Bb is to the left of F on the Circle. Bb has Bb and Eb for its flats. Eb is to the left of Bb. Can you see the pattern?
6. The word BEAD can help you memorize the Circle.
The flats in order are Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb. Let’s remove the flat signs:BEAD G. Can you see the word BEAD?
The sharps have it too but it’s backwards. We already know that the order of fifths is GDAEB. Let’s reverse that:BEAD G. WOW! There it is again! BEAD
7. You can find the tritones across from each other.
A tritone is an interval of two major thirds. It’s a root and a #4 or a diminished 5th. The tritone of C is F#. Guess what? F# is directly opposite C on the Circle. What’s the tritone of G? Opposite of G is Db/C#. Db is the diminished 5th of G.
Thank you for your time, patience and support.
About David R. Henry
David R. Henry is an advanced guitarist, writer, singer, and a risk-taking teacher filled with the Holy Spirit. He lives presently in Hong Kong. He is the composer of the song named, ‘No Problem‘ and many other awesome songs. In association, Mr David has also written an eBook named, ‘Music’s SECRET Codes’. You will get answers to ALL your problems by grabbing a copy of this eBook. To get your copy, click on ‘Grab my copy’ below:
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Resource: Piano Companion